Evangelicalism is Word-centered, Part 3, Dr. Tom Nettles

A text that leads to a discussion of the evangelical commitment to word-centeredness, Christ centeredness, and cross centeredness is Romans 10:17, “So then, faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

A Fundamental Affirmation

An evangelical affirms that belief of the gospel is necessary for making the basic human response required by the gospel. “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” One cannot call without believing, cannot believe without hearing, and cannot hear without a proclaimer of the word. This word is the gospel that, as Peter wrote, consists of the “things which have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” [1 Peter 1:12]. Peter went on to say that the new birth through the work of the seed that is “imperishable”, that is the Holy Spirit, came by way of the “living and abiding word of God” which indeed is “the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25).

Sola Scriptura

An evangelical believes in the sole authority of Scripture, that is, sola scriptura. While other factors give vital assistance in understanding what the Bible teaches, the only “Authority” in matters of faith and practice is Scripture. A wise interpreter of Scripture will give attention to the nature of human communication so as to understand grammar, syntax, literary, style, and context—in other words he will value the gift of reasonableness in the use of the wonderful gift of verbal communication.

“An evangelical believes in the sole authority of Scripture, that is, sola scriptura.”

In addition, he will not isolate himself from the interpretive skills and faithful work of Christians that have gone before, but will learn to benefit from all the gifts that God providentially has provided in the task of handling accurately the word of truth.

Moreover, he will not be insensitive to the moral and spiritual impact that Scripture has made on communities and how certain books of the Bible, or certain verses, or certain theological ideas have been greatly blessed for spiritual power. In other words, a biblical interpreter will use reason, tradition, and experience wisely in his task of biblical instruction, but finally rest only in the authority of Scripture.

“Faith Comes By Hearing”

Scripture alone is authoritative and in its proclamation lies life. We see, therefore, that “faith comes by hearing” in two ways.

First, the word provides the content that is to be believed. Only Scripture gives an authoritative message about sin, guilt and condemnation, and shows the way in which God made provision for forgiveness of sin. Only Scripture opens to us the majesty of the person of Christ and sets before us why he alone can redeem us from sin. Only Scripture gives clarity to the issue of eternal destinies. No other source exists from which such a coherent, confident, and full display of revealed truth can be gained.

Second, the message frequently comes not only with information but also with power to convert. Paul wrote the Thessalonians “for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5) And again, “when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” This transforming aspect of hearing the word, Luther contrasted with Rome’s sacramental system giving the victory to fides ex auditu (faith by hearing) rather than the sacraments’ supposed efficacy of ex opere operato (done by doing).

A Divinely Inspired, Inerrant Book

“An evangelical that denies inerrancy is an oxymoron.”

An evangelical, therefore, believes that the process of divine revelation and inspiration has left us with a book, the Bible. This Bible, the product of the work of the Holy Spirit, provides the content by which the Holy Spirit, on account of divine grace, convicts and converts a sinner, bringing him or her in repentance to trust in Christ alone and fits such a sinner for eternal fellowship with the triune God. When Scripture is granted this kind of status, and according to evangelicals it is rightly granted because clearly claimed in Scripture itself, one should not wonder that so much evangelical literature focuses on the inspiration and authority of Scripture.

An evangelical that denies inerrancy is an oxymoron. No official magisterium, no infallible papacy, no unwritten tradition but the written word of God, the Bible, constitutes the authority, the living dynamic (Hebrews 4:12) by which we are subdued to repentance and brought into fellowship with God. The text points to a person in whom all the truths of this word reside, for that which we hear is the word of Christ.

We turn now to the Christocentric nature of evangelicalism (Evangelicals are Christ-Centered, Part 4).

Tom J. Nettles


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